04 February 2011

2010: Deerhunter, Dessa

Halcyon Days
Released September 28, 2010 (4AD)

Short Notes: Generally more of the same unassuming indie rock.

Brandon: B+

I’ve been pretty ambivalent about Deerhunter’s rise to indie popularity over the last few years. Like Lin, I didn’t really enjoy Microcastles, despite the strong encouragement I received by my friends to check it out. I’ve never really liked singer Bradford Cox’s other major project, his band Atlas Sound. The first couple of tracks here didn’t sound much more promising--it’s lo-fi without a payoff, like Ariel Pink without any fun (“Don’t Cry”). But starting with track 4 (“Sailing”), and really with the next track, the poppier “Memory Boy,” this record really turned around for me. There are still some places where the sonic effects get in the way (a number of the songs, especially the otherwise interesting “Helicopter, ”have this strange underwater-sounding reverb going on that I just don’t find pleasant). But I’d count two tracks here--the lengthy but simple rumination on childhood “Desire Lines,” and especially the really excellent “Fountain Stairs,” among my favorite tracks from the albums I’ve reviewed thus far. Unlike the mainstream indie reviews I’ve read of Halcyon Days, which treat it as some sort of masterpiece, I found it to be a largely unassuming record, with simple lyrical themes, best when it was at its most straightforward.

Lin: B-

You've seen the movie "National Treasure," right? The one with Nick Cage where he's running around solving mysteries based on American history? I don't hate it and I don't love it: it is the most mediocre movie I've ever seen. The acting? Not good or bad. The script? Not good or bad. Etc. Etc. I feel the same way about Deerhunter. 2008's Microcastle has it's moments but, for the most part, the three albums I've listened to are neither particularly good nor particularly bad. It's the sort of thing that I can understand why folks like it -- I'm not going to think less of your taste if you do -- but doesn't resonate with me either way. I probably wouldn't pick Halcyon Digest over the aforementioned Microcastles or Cryptograms because it doesn't feature any standout tracks that I can point to as samples (the video I posted is just the first one I could find off the album). It's very very even but, like I said, mediocre.

A Badly Broken Code
January 19, 2010 (Doomtree Records)

Short Notes: Minneapolis hip-hop that bridges the gap between spoken word and hip-hop.

Brandon: A-

Dessa is a member of the acclaimed (at least among upper midwest ‘heads) hip-hop Doomtree crew, and this is her first full-length solo record. As far as contemporary hip-hop records go, it’s a sparse affair--relatively unadorned beats and a dense, not always rhythmic flow more akin to the spoken-word and slam poetry she got her start on. But despite not really following certain hip-hop delivery conventions, this is a really enjoyable record. Dessa tends, like most Minneapolis rappers these days, to rap about self-realization and her more intimate life experiences. And while it’s a cheap reference, she does evoke the spectre of Slug (Atmosphere’s frontman) in her storytelling--the Slug of God Loves Ugly, the dense, personal storyteller who makes some missteps but sounds endearingly sincere. The standout tracks here--”Dixon’s Girl” and the bluesy “Dutch”--are complex tales of women looking to reclaim their lives, full of pathos and interesting wordplay. My only criticism here is that, really, the beats are pretty mediocre. I’d love to hear her over some more aggressive, sonically-expansive beats in the future. Give Ant a call, girl.

Lin: A

I described this album to a friend as “Sage Francis if he was a woman and liked trip-hop more” -- which is right but, like all great albums, is only part of the whole story and severely diminishes the complexity it offers. This isn’t an “Ohmigod, you have to listen to this album!” album, but one that I feel like I could confidently recommend to anyone who has even a passing interest in hip-hop or lyrics worthy of reading. (She gives a shout-out to the Chicago Manual of Style, after all.) The opener here, “Children’s Work” is one of the best songs I’ve heard from 2010; it’s too trite of a compliment, but it would work just as well as words only. While things dip a bit after that -- I don’t much care for the “single” “Dixon’s Girl” -- the latter half of the album is amazing and lacking clunkers. The back-to-back-to-back power of “Go Home,” “Seamstress,” and “Dutch” is as good as anything else I’ve heard this year. Highly recommended.


Solon said...

It's February and you guys are only on "D". Is this going the way of the 50 states project?

Whoopee in Hell said...

4/26 > 2/50 ... we're already further along than Sufjan.

As long as we're done by the time to start the 2011 list, I'll count it as a victory.